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Good for the Military, Good for Us...Sometimes

Military inventions that end up being adapted to mainstream applications have a long history and a certain future. VOA correspondent Paul Sisco takes a look at 'Dual Use' technology.

From steam engines, to commercial jet liners… and beyond…. the tradition of military inventions going mainstream dates back at least as far as the steam engine, first patented by a military engineer. It took a while, but eventually the U.S. Government bought in to the Wright brothers' invention of the airplane, and today's trendy trench coats date back to World War One, used by soldiers in the trenches. Simply Put by David Allison, "Dual use is when the military invests in a technology that will eventually will also have civilian applications."

David Allison at the American History Museum in Washington D.C. is the project director for the Price of Freedom exhibit there now, and curator of information technologies.

He provides some history, "All the miniaturization of electronics and the low cost of personal computers date back to the military investment in the late 40's and early 50's. All that goes on with the use of fiber optics, miniaturization, solid-state components, the use of the Internet, all those things have military components. There was a time in which the military played the lead role. The field has gotten so big now, is involved in so many different areas that the role of the military is not as great as it once was but the military investment, as I say post World War II period really provided the seed to really propel the United States to the head of this field."

The Pentagon's dual use science and technology program exists to maintain technological superiority on the battlefield and help industry remain competitive in the marketplace.

Medevac helicopters, pioneered during the Korean War, are today saving lives on a daily basis. Materials developed for stealth aircraft are used in many hiking boots. The microwave oven was made with military technology. The humvee, which was used prominently in the Persian Gulf War, is now the hummer, and is prominent on American streets and highways.

Finally, 'you've got mail…'

The pentagon called it the intergalactic network. The Internet is a military invention that is today revolutionizing people and nations worldwide.